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Tim Challies Christian Blog and Commentary

I recently sat with a group of young adults, men and women in their late teens and early twenties, and we spoke about singleness, dating, and courtship. Eventually the conversation advanced to marriage and to both the joys and the difficulties of marriage. We realized together that as these young adults are considering relationships and begin to pursue marriage, they are wondering how they can divorce-proof their marriages. Many of them have grown up surrounded by divorce and its effects. Some are afraid of commitment because they are afraid they may not be able to keep that commitment.

One young man asked how to ensure that a couple does not bring into their marriage a seed that could bloom into divorce. And it did not take me more than a moment to realize that in my marriage and in your marriage and in every marriage, there is already the seed of divorce. In every marriage is an issue, a belief, a habit, a heart idolatry—indeed, many of them—that can lead easily and naturally to the complete destruction of the union. The world, the flesh, and the devil are all committed to the destruction of marriage, and each of those enemies brings its own evil seeds. The question is not whether those seeds are or will be present in a marriage, but what we will do with them.

It may be that in your marriage, you have allowed the seed of divorce to grow. Perhaps it has already put down roots and is digging in. Maybe it has already poked its head through the soil and begun to grow to full bloom. Do not despair. There is still hope for your marriage. A marriage is not ruined by the presence of such seeds but by accepting, ignoring, or embracing them.

The very same seeds that may lead to destruction may also lead to increased strength and growth. Though powerful forces are arrayed against marriage, God is the creator of marriage, and He is far more committed to its growth than Satan is to its destruction.

Each of those seeds that may lead to divorce represents an opportunity for health. Each is an opportunity for a couple to have open and honest discussion, to identify these seeds, to talk about them, and to commit to stand firmly against them. Each represents a matter to take to the Lord together in prayer, to seek God’s strength and protection. And, of course, each represents an area in which the Bible can and must speak. Those seeds of error are countered and overcome by the truth of Scripture.

Stuart Scott says it well: “The more each mind is renewed (changed) by the Scripture, the more similarly a couple will think (Rom. 12:2). One of the worst things a couple can do is work to change one another into each other’s likeness. They are to be changed, rather, into Christ’s likeness.” And they are changed by going together to God’s Word day by day, week by week, and year after year.

Satan wants to keep you from worshiping the One he hates. He wants to keep you from doing the right thing, whether that is spending time alone with the Lord in Scripture and prayer, attending and participating in public worship services, or any other thing that will draw you closer to the Lord. Here, courtesy of Thomas Brooks, are eight ways Satan will keep you from worship.

Here’s how I would encourage you to use the list. Think of the times that you decide to stay in bed instead of getting up to read the Bible; think of the times you scrapped family worship for no good reason; think of the times you stayed home from church instead of going to worship. Think of those things, and see which of these temptations is the one Satan brings to you.

  1. He makes the world look beautiful, attractive and desirable. Many people profess Christ and see him as desirable for a time. For a while they enjoy private and public worship and do it all with enthusiasm. But before long Satan presents to them worldly things and makes those look more beautiful and desirable than Christ, and many souls are drawn away. “Where one thousand are destroyed by the world’s frowns, ten thousand are destroyed by the world’s smiles.”
  2. He makes you aware of the fact that those who worship the Lord have often faced danger, loss and suffering. There are many men who would obey the Lord and worship him, except that they fear the consequences. Satan loves to present the high cost of obedience. This was the case for many in Jesus day: “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue” (John 12:42).
  3. He gives you an awareness of the difficulty of worshipping well. Satan will whisper, “It is difficult to pray well, it is hard to spend time with the Lord and to persevere until he speaks to you through his Word, it isn’t worth the effort of going to church and being warm and friendly and engaging with other Christians.” Whatever God tells you to do, Satan will present it to you as a great burden or as something you do poorly, and in this way he will keep you from it.
  4. He leads you to wrongly understand the implications of the gospel. Christ has done everything for you and given everything you need in his death and resurrection. There is nothing left for you to do but rejoice in Christ and to serve him out of the joy of salvation. But Satan will lead you to make wrong inferences from what Christ has done, encouraging you, for example, to believe Christ has freed you from the need or desire to spend time with him or to gather with other Christians. He will allow you to see the gospel, but do all he can to make you understand it all wrong.
  5. He shows you how many of those who follow Christ with obedience are poor and despised. Satan will ensure you see that those who are most interested in worshipping God are the poorest and most despised of all. You can see echoes of this in John 7: “The Pharisees answered them, ‘Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed’.”
  6. He shows you that the majority of the people in the world, along with the great and mighty of the world, do not worship the Lord. Satan will ask, “Don’t you see that the great, the rich, the honorable, the intellectual elite, the wise, the most honored, and the sheer majority of people do not trouble themselves with worshipping the Lord? You would be much better off to be like them. After all, why would you think that you, of all people, have this figured out?” To have success here he will intentionally draw your attention away from Exodus 23:2 and many similar passages: “You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice.”
  7. He fills your mind with unimportant and distracting thoughts while you are attempting to worship. He afflicts you with so much distraction and futility that you are tempted to say, “I have no desire to hear from the Lord in his Word, no desire to speak to him in prayer, no desire to spend time with other Christians in worship services.” He crowds out the very thought of worship by the sheer weight of lesser concerns.
  8. He encourages you to take comfort in past performances of your religious duties and in that way he convinces you to stop trying. He reminds you that in the past you read so much and prayed so much and spent so much time in worship. And having reminded you, he convinces you that you have earned the right to coast for a while. “You already know this. You’ve already done this. You’ve already prayed this. You’ve been to better worship services than this.” And through it all he inclines you to rest from worship.

Let me share just a couple of choice quotes. Here is one about the value of a soul:

Oh, the soul of man is more worth than a thousand worlds! It is the greatest abasing of it that can be--to let it dote upon a little shining earth, upon a little painted beauty and fading glory--when it is capable of union with Christ, of communion with God, and of enjoying the eternal vision of God.

And here is one about the Lord’s kind providence in difficult circumstances:

I remember a story of a godly man, that, as he was going to take a ship for France, he broke his leg; and it pleased Providence so to order it, that the ship that he would have gone in, was sunk at sea, and not a man saved; so by breaking a bone, his life was saved. So the Lord many times breaks our bones--but it is in order to the saving of our lives and our souls forever. He gives us a portion that makes us heart-sick--but it is in order to the making us perfectly well, and to the purging of us from those ill humors that have made our heads ache, and God’s heart ache, and our souls sick, and heavy to the death. Oh therefore let no danger or misery hinder you from your duty. ‘Had saw not these things perished, I would not have been safe’, said a philosopher when he saw what great possessions he had lost.

The Tweetable Puritan

  • Where one thousand are destroyed by the world’s frowns, ten thousand are destroyed by the world’s smiles.
  • The honors, splendor, and all the glory of this world, are but sweet poisons that will much endanger us if they do not eternally destroy us.
  • Riches are like manna; those that gathered less had no want, and those that gathered more, it was but a trouble and annoyance to them.
  • Happiness lies not in those things that cannot comfort a man upon a dying bed.
  • You may as soon fill a bag with wisdom, a chest with virtue, or a circle with a triangle, as the heart of man with anything here below.
  • A man can have enough of the world to sink him, but he can never have enough to satisfy him.
  • It is a sad and dangerous thing to have two eyes to behold our dignity and privileges, and not one to see our duties and services.
  • The worth and riches of the saints is inward.
  • Christianity is not a talking--but a walking with God.
  • It is better to go to heaven alone--than to hell with company!
  • Vain thoughts pass through the best hearts; they are lodged and cherished only in the worst hearts.
  • Christ is the crown of crowns, the glory of glories, and the heaven of heavens.
  • Though saints have little in hand, they have much in hope.
  • Outward sins are of greater infamy, but inward sins are of greater guilt.
  • Oh the spots, the blots, the blemishes that are to be seen on the face of our best duties!
  • Oh the water that is mingled with our wine; the dross that cleaves unto our gold!

Next Week

Please do read along with me if you are interested. For next week, read Section 4: “Satan’s Devices To Keep Saints in a Sad, Doubting, Questioning and Uncomfortable Condition.” I will be offering some thoughts about all of that next Thursday.

Also, Logos has kindly offered the ebook for free for anyone who cares to download it and read along (or not; you can have it for free and read it later). It is part of Volume 1 of The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks. If you use the coupon code RCT613 you can have the whole thing for free. You don't need to be a Logos user either, as you can download one of their apps and read that way.

Alternatively, the book is available in print (Westminster Books), Kindle (Amazon) and HTML.

Your Turn

The purpose of this series is to read the classics together. Do feel free to leave a comment below or to leave a link to your own blog if you have chosen to discuss this book there.

Tim Challies is author of the weblog Informing the Reforming and lives near Toronto, Canada. 
He is also author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment

The Pastor's Family

The Pastors FamilyI admit it: I sometimes grow weary of hearing about all the challenges faced by pastors and pastors’ wives and pastors’ kids. Is a pastor’s vocation really so different from any other? Can it really be such a challenge to the rest of his family? Could it be that pastors are just a little too sensitive about the whole thing?

I haven’t been a pastor long enough to speak with a whole lot of authority. But a few years into this life, I can at least vouch that a pastor’s family does face a number of unique challenges, challenges that are different from those faced by a small business owner or salaried employee. (I have been both.) Pastoral ministry is a difficult calling not just for a man, but for his whole family.

Brian Croft has a burden for practical matters of pastoral ministry and writes often He has teamed up with his wife to Cara to write The Pastor’s Family. This is a book that calls a pastor to the task of shepherding his family through the challenges of pastoral ministry.

It took only a few pages for the book to help me grasp something that should be obvious but that had largely escaped me until now. Much of what makes a pastor’s challenge unique as he shepherds his family does not come from the church but from his own heart. In the chapter titled simply “The Problem,” Croft shows that pastors face internal demands of approval, appearance, success, and much besides. These are expectations the pastor places upon himself and they can soon come to control him and to dominate his decision-making. The demands soon become idols, things that hold out the promise of satisfaction and significance. Soon a man will sacrifice his family and neglect their care in order to pursue satisfaction. “The problem rests not in the demands and pressures we face but in how we create idols out of those demands, idols that lead us to neglect our family and dishonor God.”

The solution is to better understand, appreciate and apply the good news of what Christ has accomplished, and to understand that our significance is found in him. “Struggling pastors need to rely on two facets of the biblical gospel is they hope to experience its power: they need to own their sin, acknowledging their neglect and failure, and they need to rely on the grace Christ offers, trusting in the gifts and promises of God rather than in their own efforts to secure what they want and need.”

With the foundation laid, the Crofts go on to write several chapters about the pastor’s wife and the pastor’s family. In most cases Brian writes the chapter with Cara adding comments here and there; in two cases, though, Cara leads the way and leaves Brian to add his comments. It is quite an effective format that accomplishes two things: it adds a woman’s perspective and wisdom and it also makes the book more applicable to a pastor’s wife. The Crofts strike a good balance between the descriptive and the prescriptive, between what the Bible commands and wise applications of that truth. They open up their church, their home and their family just enough to give us a glimpse of principles in action.

There are a few parts of the book that were especially helpful to me: the section on serving, encouraging and discipling your wife; the section on praying with and for your wife; the practical instructions for individually discipling your children; and the two chapters written by Cara, since they helped me better understand the challenges my wife does face or may soon face.

All throughout the history of the church there have been pastors—and you may well know some of them—who have sacrificed their families on the altar of ministry. Too many neglected wives and forsaken children can testify to men who time and time again chose ministry in place of family. Every pastor can testify to the power of this temptation, which is exactly why there is such an urgent need for The Pastor’s Family. This book challenges pastors to care first and best for their wives and children and it carefully draws upon biblical wisdom to allow them to do that very thing. It is a book I intend to read with Aileen and one I heartily recommend to every pastor.

The Pastor’s Family is available at Amazon.